The church can learn a lot from organizations like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous). Two primary reasons:
- they’re honest
- they have a plan
If you attend a meeting with your friend Gerald, you’ll hear him say, “Hello, my name is Gerald, and I’m an alcoholic.”
There will be no gasps or horrified looks. No one will point or whisper. Instead, everyone will smile and respond in unison: “Hi Gerald.”
AA members are honest with one another. They don’t wear masks, hoping you don’t look too deeply into their eyes, and they don’t avoid tough conversations. Instead, they unrobe themselves, vulnerably communicating, “I recognize I’ve got a problem, and I want to do something about it.”
AA members are honest, but they also have a plan.
AA participants welcome you, but then they equip you with a sponsor, someone who also struggles with alcoholism but has made some progress utilizing AA’s twelve-steps. Sponsors expect you will face the temptation to consume alcohol. Instead of shaming you, they give you their phone number with the instruction to contact them anytime you are tempted to drink. They know you will need a friend who understands and will be available.
Guess what? If you want to grow in your faith and be the person God is calling you to be, you need a sponsor. It doesn’t have to be someone perfect—they don’t exist—but someone willing and available to pray with you, listen to you, and encourage you.
Pastor and author Eugene Peterson writes, “Spiritual formation takes place essentially in the company of friends, of peers.” Disciples learn, grow, and live out their faith best in the company of friends, and that’s primarily what a sponsor is: a friend and teammate.
Spiritual formation takes place essentially in the company of friends, of peers. –Eugene Peterson
Overall, Jesus’ followers can do better. Instead of pretending as if we don’t have problems, or—worse—looking at others with judgment, we need to admit we have setbacks.
Get started in three ways:
- Practice confessing your struggles. You don’t have to do it on a busy street corner, but you should have a friend or two with whom you can call and speak honestly.
- Ask someone you respect to be your spiritual sponsor (mentor). Do it for six months and then re-evaluate from there.
- Reach out to someone who may be new in their faith or someone whose faith has stalled and needs a jumpstart. Propose being their spiritual sponsor for six months and then re-evaluate.
“Why call it ‘sponsor?’ Why not use a word like mentor or trainer or guide? Won’t people think I’m referring to AA?” Use whatever word works for you, but I like AA’s language. I like the parallel with AA because it reminds us of their success and that honesty and teamwork matter.
Jesus’ followers need sponsors. When we walk with others through life, we worship God. When we try to do everything on our own, we worship ourselves.
Looking for a document that provides an overview of what a sponsor does? Download “Sponsor overview” here.
QUESTION (leave a comment below)
Do you agree or disagree with the idea of having a spiritual sponsor? Why?